Monthly Archives: January 2014

Apricot Brandy Cake

christmas 2013, apricot cake, pan-fried heart 028Valentine’s Day is upon us.  Actually, it’s been lurking in the stores since Thanksgiving. Junior Deerslayer refers to it as “Singles Awareness Day”.  Everyone in our family has decided that it would be a sneaky move for all of us to secretly decide to celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 16th instead.  All the cards, flowers, and candy will be 1/2 off.  The restaurants will have put away their “special occasion menus”… the ones that feature only a couple of entrees that cost about four times the regular price. There are 364 days a year that my dearly beloved can show me how much he loves me.  He lavishes me with tokens of his affection every day.  Okay, most days, pretty often, often enough. No need to run these things into the ground.

 For anyone who succumbs to societal pressure and feels the need to come up with SOMETHING before February 16th, try this delicious cake.  Save the $6 for a card, $100 for flowers, and $200 for dinner out.  Prepare this wonderful cake.  prepare a small personal note, and fix a nice dinner at home.  Priceless!

 Apricot Brandy Cake Ingredients
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cooking spray with flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 package yellow cake mix with pudding in the mix
3 eggs
1/2 cup cold water
1/3 cup cooking oil
1/2 cup apricot brandy
Sprinkle nuts and dried apricots over bottom of a 10 inch tube pan or 12 cup bundt pan that’s been liberally sprayed with cooking spray w/ flour.smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 048
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Stir together cake mix, eggs, water, oil and apricot brandy.
Pour batter over nuts.
Bake at 325 in oven for 1 hour or until knife inserted half way between center of tube and edge comes out clean..
Cool 10 minutes in pan.
Invert onto serving plate with a lip around the edge (to collect glaze) and prick top with skewer or knife so that glaze can soak it.
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1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup apricot brandy
  1. Melt butter in saucepan.
  2. Stir in water and sugar.
  3. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Stir in apricot brandy.
  6. Brush glaze evenly over top and sides of cake. (It’s pretty tasty! You might want a sip or two.)
  7. Allow cake to absorb glaze.  As glaze collects in serving plate, I pour it back into the pan and reapply until fully absorbed.
  8. Repeat until glaze is used up.

This cake is even better the second day.  Good luck with that, though!


Posted by on January 31, 2014 in Recipes, Sweet Things, Uncategorized


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Adventures in Nilgai Cooking

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550 pounds of nilgai to fill the freezer and for me to experiment with!


I have to say that I was almost as excited as Deerslayer when I found out that he’d gotten his first nilgai. We’d driven around the ranch looking for a blue bull for quite some time.  It was decided that night around the campfire that it must have been the rut since several males were seen in one day.  Usually, they’re very elusive but not on Deerslayer’s day of glory.  He got his at 7:00 in the morning.  I saw one as I drove onto the ranch around 10:30, and spotted another near the camp around 2:30 in the afternoon. Everyone made a mental note.  I  enjoy experimenting with wild game and everything I’ve heard about this meat has been extremely positive.  I hadn’t really thought about how the size of the muscle would influence how I would prepare it.



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Trimmed backstrap

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Untrimmed backstrap

The backstrap is pictured on a cutting board that measures 32 inches. It was a refreshing surprise to discover that a prized cut of meat like backstrap, one that, if referring to venison, is set aside for a couple of special meals. will provide several delectable meals for 4 to 6 people.  I felt like Jack (of beanstalk fame) in the giant’s castle. Everything was so much bigger than I was used to.  Suddenly, I had at my disposal two to three times the best cuts of meat.   The heart was enormous!  Deerslayer is holding it in this picture.  It will be prepared just as I would a deer heart.

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After packaging up all the meat, I was eager to try my first batch of “cook all day”  nilgai.  Just the “tendony” shank meat and neck meat filled my roasting pan so I started with that.  I was pleased to discover that it cooked up just like venison or wild pork. The meat was some of the best I’ve ever eaten.  It was a glorious mahogany color with a rich, full flavor.  I was sold.

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Rich, mahogany-colored  meat. Lean and flavorful. Ready to be used in Carne Guisada, Stews, Soups, Pot Pies. BBQ sandwiches.

Next, I think I’ll be taking full advantage of the extra-large, hind-quarter muscle to make some jerky. I’ll keep you posted.  Then we’ll grind up our meat for the year.  Once again, I’ll share the process.


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Nilgai? What the Hell is That?

Nilgai Excitement

Adult male nilgai

These guys are very difficult to catch on film. This photo and my info came from

I received the text from Deerslayer shortly after 7:00 a.m.  He wanted to know if I wanted to get some snapshots of a Nilgai for my blog.  It was short and to the point but it spoke volumes.

The unwritten meaning behind the text was:  “Oh, my gosh!  I got a nilgai.  I’ve been stalking them for two years and I finally got one.  Whoop, whoop!  Let’s fill the freezers.  I think we should buy another one and dedicate it to the keeping of my nilgai, exclusively.  Perhaps a shrine should be erected!”

I hadn’t headed out to the hunting camp with Deerslayer on this particular weekend.  It’s only about an hour and a half from door to door.  Deerslayer headed out after work.  Over the past year and a half,  he’d decided that one of these creatures would fill the freezer nicely.  At 500 to 750 lbs. of lean, flavorful meat, I had to agree.Tim's Nilgui 1-18-14 016

These creatures have been around South Texas since the 1920’s, when the King Ranch imported them from India to keep as exotics and have available for hunters. They are members of the antelope family.  The males are sometimes called “blue bulls” because of their coloration.  Escaping through breaks in fences and roaming the area without natural predators, the nilgai population has continued to grow in the region.  While they are unique looking animals, (not much to look at if you ask me), they are really big and skittish.  Getting a glimpse of one is a rarity.

As I’m sure you know by now, I’d never processed or prepared the meat of a nilgai.  My first experience came on the night of the big celebration.  It’s gonna take some time for me to wrap my head around how large the muscles are on this beast.  I’m not complaining, mind you.  But when Deerslayer (nay, Nilgaislayer) said he was bringing the tenderloin into the camper for me to prepare, I wasn’t expecting this:

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This is one tenderloin, at least 20 inches long and bigger around than my upper arm. (I’m not particularly robust, keep in mind.)

I liberally seasoned the meat with salt and pepper mix and  seared it in a cast iron skillet with a drizzle of olive oil.  There is practically no fat on the meat which means that it can either be prepared quite rare or cooked all day in the oven or on the stove.  After letting the meat rest for 15 minutes, I cut the seared tenderloin into bite-sized pieces and served it up as an appetizer to the nine hunters who had gathered around the fire.  It was hugely popular.  I’m gonna call it a success.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be learning the nuances of nilgai vs. venison.  How will it cook up?  How’s the taste?  It’s gonna be fun.

Tim's Nilgui 1-18-14 008

Nilgai sport a jaunty beard and some interesting coloration. This one will be named “Smugly” and will hang in our library.


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On Being the Deerslayer’s Mother

 (and preparing Pan-Fried Venison Heart)

christmas 2013, apricot cake, pan-fried heart 087As I read a post recently, from Andy at Tremendous Whatnot, I was reminded of the Deerslayer tradition of preparing a celebratory dinner for the lucky hunter who triumphantly brought his/her bounty back to camp.  Photos are taken during all steps of the cleaning process.  Yuck!  With a certain amount of “tongue-in-cheek” pomp and circumstance, the deer’s heart is delivered to the cook (me) to be pan fried, served with cream gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, and some sort of 2013, apricot cake, pan-fried heart 063

Well, usually, I’m pretty much on top of things when it comes to hunting camp prep.  This time, however, I completely dropped the ball.  My younger junior deerslayer produced the goods, as it were.  She brought to camp the most beautiful ten-point buck ever to grace the books.  Calls were made, photos were taken, and texts and e-mails were sent.  For the first time ever, I didn’t have the necessary ingredients to fulfill the tradition.  I was missing potatoes, garlic and cream, eggs for breading, and  enough  milk for gravy.  I was afraid I’d be fired.  So, with tail between my legs, I asked that we do the do, at home, with all the trimmings and appropriate hoopla the next day. christmas 2013, apricot cake, pan-fried heart 059 When presented with the choice of a marginal meal, at best, or one done to a fair-thee-well at home, my junior deerslayer chose wisely.  Do it up big.  Do it up right.  Do it up at home.

Lesson learned.  I don’t know that I will ever leave the house again without potatoes, garlic, cream, milk, flour, Tommy’s Salt & Pepper mix, eggs, and cooking oil in my purse or on my person ….. just in case.

Pan-Fried Venison heart

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One or Two venison hearts

Enough flour to dredge (about a cup and a half)

Tommy’s Salt & Pepper Mix*

2 eggs, whisked in a pie plate

Cooking oil and 1/2 stick of butter, enough to make about ¼ inch in cast iron skillet

Rinse heart thoroughly.  Be sure to clean out any blood clots which can sometimes be in ventricles.  Trim white membrane from muscle.

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Slice heart into 1/2 inch slices.

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Notice the blood clot. It should be rinsed away. The fibrous tissue in the ventricle should be cut away also.

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Season slices liberally with Tommy’s Salt & Pepper mix.

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Set up a work station of eggs, whisked together in a pie plate, and flour on a paper plate.

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This is a silly idea that I came up with and love, love, love! I always wind a rubber band around the end of the fork that I use to whisk eggs. It keeps the fork from sliding into the sliminess. Not a big deal, but it makes my life a teeny bit easier.

Coat heart slices in flour, then egg, and additional flour to create a good coating.  I usually use disposable plates to ease the clean-up. Even the deerslayer’s wife needs a little bit of a break!   These coated slices of heart can be set aside on a cutting board, foil, or other surface. Heat cooking oil and butter in a cast iron skillet, just enough to cover the bottom. The slices of heart can then be fried in the hot oil until each side is nicely browned, about 4 to 6 minutes per side depending on how hot the oil is.  Set aside on warm plate.

Cream Gravy

Oil and crispy bits from frying heart



Salt and pepper to taste

Once the steaks are ready, you can prepare the gravy by pouring out most of the oil from the skillet, leaving a couple of tbsp. and the crusty bits in the skillet. Whisk about a quarter cup of the flour that was left over from the meat preparation into the oil mixture until it is the consistency of thick paste.

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Return to low heat and add enough milk and continue whisking until the mixture is thickened and bubbly. Add salt and pepper (or Tommy’s secret salt & pepper mix) to taste. We like lots of coarse ground pepper in our gravy!
We always accompany our chicken-fried game with garlic mashed potatoes and the aforementioned cream gravy. See below.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

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Medium red potatoes, skins on, one per person, plus one extra

2 cloves of garlic per potato

1/2 stick butter

half and half, about 1/2 cup

salt & pepper

Scrub potatoes.  Cube and place in a pot of boiling water.  Peel garlic cloves, place in water.  Boil until potatoes are fork tender.  Pour off water, add butter and mash.

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This is my very special potato masher. It belonged to my great-grandmother.

 Add half & half until your preference for glorious garlic mashed potato consistency is achieved.  Season to taste. Enjoy.

*Tommy was Deerslayer’s dad, head of the clan, if you will.  He was an amazing man.  Any number of blog posts could be dedicated to examples of his generosity, kindness, daring exploits, child-rearing philosophy (he raised eight), strong faith, and brutal frankness. Deerslayer is the man that he is because of Tommy.  For that I am very grateful…. most of the time.  He also was an extraordinary cook and grill-master. Here is a simple recipe that we got from Tommy.  I use it on just about everything I cook except cake and ice cream.

Tommy’s Salt & Pepper Mix

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2 parts kosher salt

2 parts garlic powder

1 part black pepper

Pour ingredients into a jar.  Shake until well blended.  Pour into a shaker.  Use freely on EVERYTHING!


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Venison and Wild Pork Tamales

smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 134Living in South Texas, tamales have always been a staple and still a delicacy.  The making of tamales has always inspired awe among those  of us who were not lucky enough to have a heritage steeped in chilies, manteca (lard), beautifully seasoned meat, and masa.  The experts, specialists, nay, artists are the lovely little ladies who learned from their mothers, who learned from THEIR mothers, down through the generations.

I was lucky enough to finagle an invitation to a “tamalada” which is a gathering of families and friends who come together to make (and eat) tamales.  From the cooking and seasoning of the meat, the preparation of the flavorful masa, the soaking and cleaning of the dried corn husks, the assembly of the actual tamales, and finally the steaming of the lovingly prepared treats, everyone helps… and tells stories, and sings songs, and enjoys being part of the age-old process.

File:Mexican oil paint on tin retablo of 'Our Lady of Guadalupe', 19th century, El Paso Museum of Art.JPGThe tamalada that I attended was hosted by the Guadalupanas, a group of faithful men and women who honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico and many parts of North America.  These men and women came together to make 300 dozen tamales for the festivities surrounding the feast day of Our Lady, on December 12th.  What a wonderful, joyful, and educational experience it was.  These people had so much to share with me.  I wrote feverishly.  I let them know that I had looked up directions on the internet.  While I don’t speak much Spanish, I did hear the word “internet” come up in some of their conversations and some good-natured chuckles.  I smiled apologetically and continued working and taking notes.

The great thing about tamales, other than their out-of-this-world flavor, is that the ingredients are very inexpensive and are available at every grocer in South Texas around the holidays.  Also, depending on how much time you have, this can be broken down into several days of work.  Day one:  cook the meat. pour off juices and save, refrigerate meat and juices.  Day two:reheat, shred and season cooked meat. re-refrigerate.   Day three:  prepare masa, reheat meat, assemble tamales, steam tamales, eat fresh tamales.

Venison and Wild Pork Tamales

(Preparing the Meat)

*Approx. 3 lbs. “cook-all-day” venison

About 1/2 pound or 1 cup fat (manteca, salt pork, Crisco, wild pork belly)

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Fat is an important part of the tamale-making process. Anyone who tells you otherwise….. don’t eat their tamales. Lard (manteca) is the traditional ingredient of choice. I had the wild pork belly, which I chopped into one-inch cubes and placed around the pan to distribute the flavor and fat.

Approx. 1/4 cup salt/pepper/garlic powder mix

Approx. 1/4 cup any seasoning that includes chili powder and comino (I had the mix you see in the photo so I used it.)

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While traditional tamales are made from a variety of meats, mine are made from venison, with wild pork belly added for fat and flavor.

1.  Prepare “cook-all-day” venison. Throw in some salt pork, wild pork belly, or some lard for extra fat.  Tamales really need the fat to turn out the way they should.   Season heavily with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Not only will you be seasoning the meat, but also the juices that will be used later.

2. Add cooked meat to a deep-sided cast iron pan. Add enough reserved meat juices (with melted fat) to cover meat.  (Set aside about a cup and a half of meat in case you feel that you’ve overseasoned it according to your taste.)

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3.  Simmer about 20-30 minutes until meat can easily be shredded with two forks.  Season with additional 2 tbsp. comino, 2 heaping tbsp. chili powder, and 2 tsp. salt. Meat should be a beautiful mahogany color and the flavor should be strong.  Don’t forget that some of the seasoning will help flavor the masa as well.  Pour off most but not all of the meat juices.  Reserve for use in the masa.

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Preparation of the husks

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Corn husks are purchased packaged like this and are usually found in the produce department, specialty/ethnic food department, or spice department of the grocer.

Corn husks are the vessels in which the tamales will be shaped and steamed.  They must be rinsed thoroughly to remove any foreign matter from them.

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 The husks will need to be soaked for 30 minutes or so to make them pliable enough to roll.  A secret that I learned from the Guadalupanas is that there is a subtle difference in the two surfaces of the husks.  The smooth side of the husk is preferable for smearing the masa mixture.smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 110

 The other side of the husk contains ridges that will cause the masa to adhere, thus making it difficult to unroll the tamale with any success.

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Preparation of the Masa

Masa can be prepared from corn meal or purchased as a dough, which is available from most grocers who cater to a strong hispanic population. I’ve used both.  While starting from dry corn meal certainly works, achieving the correct consistency is much easier when starting with dough.  There are many good recipes out there for using dried corn meal.  There is also a recipe on the bag,

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Do not think that prepared masa is ready to use. The consistency is similar to clay and still needs quite a bit of doctoring up.  This is 3 lbs. of masa.

3 lbs of prepared masa (set aside about a cup that can be added at the end if  the texture you’ve achieved is too soft)

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1/3 cup of Knorr’s Pollo y Tomate Caldo (chicken and tomato bouillon)

2 tbsp. comino (cumin)

1/3 cup chili powder

 About 1/2 cup reserved meat juices (If meat juices were reserved from cooking, there will be a good amount of fat in the mixture.  It can be separated, and added to masa.)

1 to 2 cups melted fat, either separated from meat juices, lard, or shortening

Slowly combine ingredients using a potato masher, dough hook on a mixer, or by hand until masa is the consistency of very creamy peanut butter.

Assembling the tamales

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Set up your station with meat & tongs, masa & wide spoon, soaked husks, and cookie sheet for assembling.

1.  Select a corn husk and allow some water to drip off.  Choose the smooth side.  Spoon about 3 tbsp. of masa near the smooth, wide end of the husk.

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Notice the texture and location of the masa on the husk.

Add a line of meat to the masa.

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…and roll it from left over toward the right, pulling the husk over the meat and enveloping it in the masa. Continue to roll the husk until completely wrapped.  Fold the narrow end of the husk away from the seam and lay it on a cookie sheet.

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While you may be getting pretty excited about your progress at this point, it’s time for one of the secrets that I learned from the Guadalupanas. Before you make dozens of tamales, only to discover that you don’t care for the seasoning, it’s possible to make a sample and fix what needs fixing. Sample your first tamale by wrapping it in a wet paper towel and popping it in the microwave for about 2 minutes.  This will steam the tamale to the point that you can get an idea of the results. The texture will not be right but you can check the seasoning of the masa and meat.  I mentioned earlier that a small amount of meat and masa should be set aside.  This provides you the ability to add reserved meat in case it tastes too strong, or add more fat or reserved masa if necessary to adjust texture, Don’t get the idea that the microwave will produce results as good as long-term steaming!  It truly doesn’t stack up.

Now that you’ve gotten your ingredients seasoned up just right, start an assembly line.

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Once your tamales are made, it’s time to steam them.  Find a pot deep enough to hold tamales while standing vertically, a steamer basket and a lid.  Fill pot with about an inch or so of water so that it comes just lower than the level of the steamer basket.  Another secret…. drop a penny into the water.  As the water boils, you can hear the penny “tinkling” in the pot.  When the “tinkling” stops, water needs to be added.

Another secret I learned from the experts is to form a pyramid shaped from foil that the tamales can rest against.  The folded ends of the tamales should be placed toward the bottom.

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smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 127

Place the lid on the pot and bring water to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and steam for one to two hours.  Tamales are best when freshly steamed.

Whew!  You’ve just done something amazing.  Bring out the beer, grab the tongs, and invite your nearest and dearest to sidle up to the pot and eat fresh wild game tamales!  smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 132


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Save Those Wild Pork Shanks!

smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 001Attention, all Pigslayers! Don’t throw away those wild pork shanks.  I know, they don’t seem to have enough meat on them to count for much. But don’t be swayed.  While on our Thanksgiving hunting trip, Deerslayer smoked our turkey and a whole pan of pork shanks that I’d saved from a previous hunt.They turned out beautifully. Smoky,delicious goodness!   I packaged up the smoked shanks, about four per bag, and froze them.  When I decided to cook up a big pot of beans, I threw two shanks into the works and simmered everything until the delicious, smoked meat fell from the bone.  A masterpiece!

What excites me the most about this shanky revelation is that it provides an additional use for meat that has been, in the past, relegated to the trashcan. So cook good meat, ALL the meat and feed it to your family!


Posted by on January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized


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